This year London hosted the Olympics and Prague hosted a Sokol Slet, as they did 64 years ago. In 1948 Marie Provaznikova attended both, when she started a new
Olympics record as the first to use the Olympics to defect from a communist country, Czechoslovakia.
The communists had just seized power in Czechoslovakia and would hold on to it for over forty years. Marie Provaznikova
(“Provaznic” in her 1991 NY Times obituary) was celebrated then as the leader of 500,000 women of the democratic Sokols.
She was seen as an enemy of the new communist rule. They had no intention of allowing her to go with the Czechoslovak women’s gymnastic team to London.
However, Marie was also President of the Women’s Gymnastic Committee of the Federation of International Gymnastics (F.I.G.).
International pressure forced the government to allow her to go to London for the games. There she defected from a communist state and emigrated to the United States.
She created a new sort of Olympic record that would be repeated many times at future Olympics, not for gold, silver, or bronze, but for freedom.
She became the President of our Sokol New York unit, and left her archives and collected photos at our Sokol New York Library. This year we will be sending her archives to
Prague to be welcomed back home by National Archives of the Czech Republic. I’m sure the flight will pass over London.
Photos of her in the 1948 slet are posted here on our web site, offering a visual understanding of her role in 1948, her respected stature both with the waves of refugees from Czechoslovakia, and with the Sokols that remained under the communist rule. Soon after she defected, the democratic Sokol organization was banned in Czechoslovakia,
and only restored legally after the fall of communism.
E. Chlanda, Sokol New York Library